The early positive trend of strikeouts by O’s pitchers

By striking out 10 Tampa Bay batters last night, the Orioles tied a team record. Their staff has now fanned 10 or more hitters in four straight games. This is the fourth time they’ve done this since 1954.

They would not have been able to tie the mark without last night’s game going extra innings. Birds pitchers had eight strikeouts through nine innings. But Tanner Scott got one in the 10th and Travis Lakins Sr., on the way to his first MLB win, got one in the 11th.

Lakins-Throws-White-Sidebar.jpgRecords are nice, but perhaps the trend of O’s pitchers striking out more batters is the real story of the first seven games of the 2020 season.

Through Friday’s games, the Orioles were keeping good company at the top of the American League in team strikeout rate. According to FanGraphs.com, Cleveland was leading the league with 11.75 strikeouts per nine innings and Tampa Bay rated second at 10.93. But in third, at 10.02, were the Orioles.

Last year the Orioles averaged 7.9 strikeouts per game over 162 games to rank 13th in the AL. This year they are averaging 9.9 per game with 69 in seven games. Meanwhile, the O’s are about in the middle of the pack in walks allowed so far in the league.

The Orioles also rated fourth in the AL in groundball rate at 46.7 percent through Friday’s games. Strikeouts and ground balls are nice trends for any pitching staff.

Wade LeBlanc gave the Orioles another solid start last night, going 5 1/3 and allowing one run in the 5-4 win over Tampa Bay in 11 innings. A blown lead cost him a win, but the Orioles are 2-0 in his two starts.

Last night gave us our first look at the new extra-innings rule, which places a runner at second base in each half-inning beyond the ninth. Having no force play in order makes it harder to turn a double play, but the Orioles managed to do it twice in extras on their way to the win. Pat Valaika’s looped single into short right field plated the winning run in the 11th.

Last year the Orioles went 24-52 (.316) against AL East teams. They are 4-3 (.571) to start this year. They’ve already posted two series wins and can sweep the Rays this afternoon at Oriole Park.

It can get normal around game time: Like a hockey player, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde has to make some changes on the fly in the 2020 baseball season. It’s anything but normal and anything but what he is used to.

Heck, no one has any experience preparing for what is happening during a season when the schedule is being changed after the season has started. It was announced yesterday that the Orioles will not be playing the Yankees early next week. A series with New York was on the original schedule. But now the O’s will host the Miami Marlins Tuesday through Thursday, and they’ll play four games over three days. They will schedule a doubleheader for one of those days and Miami will be the home team for two of them.

Hyde also has to deal with daily questions from the media about how COVID-19 has impacted his team and players and teams around Major League Baseball. It might seem his day doesn’t really begin to seem normal until game time each night. Then it’s about playing the game and making the decisions managers are used to making every night.

“When the game starts, there is a little bit of an exhale, for sure,” Hyde said before Saturday’s game. “Everything is just different right now, not just for me, for everybody. And so, your routine is not the same and we’re working and we’re happy to be there. That is the attitude I’m taking. We’re trying our best to make this season work. We’re going to follow everything because we really want to play. But our day and my days is a lot different than a normal season, for sure.

“But when the game starts, it does feel like a baseball game and that is a good feeling. It’s not a good feeling to not have fans in the stands. But it’s fun to watch our guys compete, and we’re playing another club and the competition is still there. That is the nice break of the day.”

Hyde is trying to roll with the punches in this season of the new normal.

“This year we’re adjusting on the fly,” he said. “It’s a dodge and weave. Every day there is something new. Tomorrow is probably going to be something else. We’re staying flexible. Honestly, I wake up in the morning and see what’s happening around the world and around sports and around our sport and put on my fireman’s hat and try to put out fires until 7:35.”

O’s reliever Shawn Armstrong said he is not concerned about the Marlins coming to Camden Yards as they return to play following more than a dozen positive COVID-19 tests.

“The Orioles have done a phenomenal job with us, doing everything they can possibly do to keep us safe,” he said. “We’ve implemented more protocols. You’ll see guys, like our bullpen staff, we’re going to wear masks out in the bullpen during the games. Just to eliminate the possibility of the spread if someone were to get it here. I don’t think we’re too stressed about the Marlins coming in. We’re doing our part here on and off the field. We’re doing what we can do to control the Orioles.”

Armstrong said his clubhouse continues to observe the extensive protocols.

“They sent us a video before summer camp and we got to watch the 30-minute clip about things to do in the clubhouse, things to do off the field. And some safety precautions we can take at our apartment, on the flights and in the hotels. Like I said, I can’t say enough about the training staff and the clubhouse guys here. They’ve done a phenomenal job to keep us safe and to have this work as efficiently as possible.

“We want to play and we want to get the Orioles some wins. We’re going to do whatever we have to, to play the game. We’re going to take care of one another and hold each other accountable.”

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